The New York Times Presents recently aired their documentary Framing Britney Spears, and it caused an uproar on social media. Fans of the pop star and LGBTQ+ icon have been consumed in the “Free Britney” movement that has spread like wildfire online. For the last twelve years, Britney has been under a conservatorship that is controlled by her father, Jamie Spears. With a conservatorship, a guardian is appointed by a judge to manage another person’s finances, home, and even daily life. This means that Jamie Spears controls who can or cannot visit Britney, her medical records, and he can even cancel her credit cards at any time. He has full control of her estate, as well as a security guard watching Britney twenty-four hours a day. Britney does not want her father to hold this position anymore. The documentary made it clear that Britney is afraid of her father and she will not make music until he steps down. And after watching, I can understand why people are questioning why a conservatorship is really necessary for Britney, and if it’s even in her best interest.
Released on Hulu early this February, the documentary primarily talks about Britney’s upbringing and the events that led to the conservatorship. It explores her rise to fame as a pop star, her relationship with the media and paparazzi, and her highly publicized 2007 breakdown. I found it interesting how the film highlights that Britney’s dad was never interested in supporting his daughter but was mostly concerned with making money. While Britney just wanted to fulfill her dreams of being a singer, Jamie Spears could only think of the yachts he was going to buy with the money his daughter would make. And when she surged into fame and stardom at only sixteen years old. She had the entire pop industry in the palm of her hand which definitely triggered more greed and jealousy within Jamie.
As she grew more and more famous, people began speculating about her private life. Her infamous public breakup with Justin Timberlake only added fuel to the fire as the media took his side immediately and made Britney appear as the villain. Justin profited for years off of depicting Britney as the heartbreaker and the media tore her to shreds for it. The public perception of Britney was deeply rooted in misogyny – and this isn’t a narrative we haven’t seen before. Other female celebrities, such as Taylor Swift, have suffered years of slut shaming and relentless online bullying for their dating habits, and Britney was not an exception to this. Justin twisted the narrative to his favor while Britney suffered at the hands of the media and paparazzi.
Over time, Britney slowly started to let go of the carefully crafted image she originally had put up for the world to see. She became the frequent punchline of tabloid headings and she was constantly harassed and stalked by paparazzi, who couldn’t seem to leave her alone. This all came to a climax during her infamous 2007 meltdown where she shaved her head and attacked a paparazzi’s car with an umbrella. This was Britney’s breaking point, and yet she was the laughingstock of a nation. Nobody was concerned with her mental health because there was too much money to be made off her suffering. After, she divorced her husband Kevin Federline and lost physical custody of her two children. Britney was eventually taken to the hospital against her will and put on a 5150 hold, and Jamie Spears was appointed her conservator.
The fact that Britney’s conservatorship is still in place twelve years later despite her being fully capable of caring for herself definitely raises some questions about Britney’s dad and his true intentions. After watching this documentary, I think it’s obvious that Jamie is extremely greedy and is only concerned about profiting off of his daughter rather than supporting her career. Something else the film touched upon that I found interesting was how the conservatorship represents the male figures in Britney’s life wanting to control her and her sexuality. Britney came onto the scene as a confident young woman, who knew what she wanted for her career and how to make it happen. She outraged cynics by feeling comfortable in her own body and they would do anything it takes to shoot her down. When Britney wasn’t afraid to be assertive, she was labelled a diva. The male figures in Britney’s life took every chance they could to attack her and tear her down: the paparazzi harassed her endlessly, Justin painted her to be a cheating heartbreaker, and Britney’s own father even took legal action in order to control every aspect of her life.
In recent years, Britney has moved away from the spotlight and has since been more active on Instagram. Her fans often speculate that she is dropping cryptic clues about her real feelings about the conservatorship; the podcast “Britney’s Gram,” started by comedians Tess Barker and Barbara Gray, analyzes and dissects every aspect of Britney’s social media posts to find hidden clues about Britney and the conservatorship. Activists and fans of the pop icon are still fighting hard to “Free Britney” from her abuse. While Jamie Spears has yet to step down, but the legal trials to strip him of this title are still ongoing.
Framing Britney Spears gives viewers an uncomfortable but realistic look at the misogynistic celebrity culture we’ve grown up within. This casual misogyny is still very much alive in our world now, except it’s been rebranded into shaming women for being open with their sexuality online and “dragging” celebrities for their every fault. This documentary is a wakeup call to step away from indulging too much in toxic media and condemning women for celebrating their bodily autonomy.